When you are looking to buy a product there are usually two two sources you trust: your friends and professionals. So why is it that when we are looking for a restaurant we trust strangers and their arbitrary star ratings? If you want to start listening to people you trust, then check out Tell. The mobile food map app leverages your social graph to give you a smart review of restaurants, bars, and clubs from the input of friends, influencers, and any other sources you value . Tell is the only hospitality app you’ll need because it’s based on an already trusted network.
AlleyWatch chatted with Joshua Henner about the startup and how they plan to perfect the NYC’s rich food map.
Tell us about the product or service.
Tell is a new app designed to give you the: “Best. Food. Map. Ever.” Think of a hybrid between social media where you connect with your friends to create and share content, paired with the utility of a map-based resource. Users follow people they trust to create their own Tell map whether that means their own friends, expert food publications, or other Tell tastemakers on the local and national food and beverage scene like chefs, restaurateurs, bloggers, and other food celebrities. There are many restaurant-discovery apps and sites out there, but we make the process a lot easier, and customize lists to every consumer.
How is it different?
We trade reviews for simple recommendations from trusted sources. At the end of the day, people just want to know if they should go to a restaurant or not. The only locations that show up on your Tell map are your own favorite places and those recommended by the Tell users you follow.
We eliminate “reviews” from the strangers you’d find on Yelp or Foursquare ensuring the quality of our data.
We’re also the first true aggregator in the space – think Google News for the restaurant and bar scene. We bring together tastemakers like: The Infatuation, Eater, The Michelin Guide, Lonely Planet, TimeOut, Grub Street and Zagat, along with bloggers such as The Brunch Boys and No Leftovers. We have also already partnered with celebrity chefs and restaurateurs such as Food Network Chef Scott Conant and Hollywood celebrities’ likes Entourage creator Doug Ellin (who is also an investor in the app).
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
The consumer market we’re focusing on is massive. It pulls both from traditional social media users plus creators and consumers of food and beverage location-based reviews.
From a revenue perspective we’re focusing on mobile advertising with an emphasis on branded endorsements within our network of tastemakers and social media influencers. There was more than $1.5 billion spent on non-celebrity brand ambassador campaigns in the United States in 2016 alone, with roughly 33% of that market focused on food and beverage in some regard.
Americans also spent more at bars and restaurants ($54.8 billion) than they did in grocery stores ($52.5 billion) in 2016. This marks a tectonic shift in the food and beverage industry. It’s very exciting and highlights exactly why a platform like ours is needed, but it also quickly becomes obvious what a gaping hole we’re stepping in to fill.
What is the business model?
We’re going to connect major advertising brands and food and bev companies with our Tell tastemaker network. These partnerships will offer specials, exclusive events, contests and discounts at local bars and restaurants to our users. We’ll be rolling out some of these revenue test cases immediately, focusing on scale later in 2017.
What inspired the business?
Real life. I’ve never been an avid Yelp or Foursquare user because I don’t trust their data or the (typically) overwhelmingly positive or negative reviews of strangers.
I was looking for a great date spot in New York City and did what I always do: I asked one of my best friends (hi, Craig). That was the genesis of Tell. Recommendations from sources that you trust, never the opinion of strangers.
The platform has evolved in a way that I never would have imagined, but that core principal will always remain intact.
Why are people more likely to trust recommendations from friends?
Even with all the competitors out there, our research shows people consistently fall back on texting their friends for recommendations. Your friends know your tastes, and you know theirs, leading to instant validity of their recommendations.
We just launched in January of 2017, so our data is limited but so far it speaks for itself. Thirty-three percent of our Tell users have written recommendations. To put this into perspective Yelp has less than a 0.05% “review rate”.
Our hypothesis is that friends are intrinsically motivated to recommend locations to other friends, whose recommendations you only see by following them.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
User traction is our number one priority.
Beyond that, we’re going to expand our Tastemaker Network nationwide. We can then partner tastemakers with advertisers to bring special offers to our users.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Failing is the best thing that can happen to you and your product if you’re not afraid of it, and if you can learn from it.
Failure is a strange thing. People tend to be hyper-focused on what they should be doing to avoid mistakes. If you can embrace failing and adapt, you’ll be far better off and you’ll learn a ton.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Joshua Kushner at Thrive Capital. The success he’s achieved within Thrive’s portfolio at such a young age is impressive to say the least, but more so than that, what he’s trying to accomplish at Oscar Health (portfolio Co. of Thrive’s that he cofounded) is ambitiously inspiring; a truly consumer-oriented product in healthcare, one of the most highly regulated industries. It’s rare that you see a (relatively) younger investor that has experienced his level of success roll up his sleeves and take on a founding, managerial, or operating role within a portfolio company. I respect it.
Why did you launch in New York?
My cofounder and CTO Frank Scarfo and I are both New York locals, but more fundamentally, New York City is the Food and Beverage mecca. If we can perfect our model here, we can roll out anywhere.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
Not a fair question given our focus. If I had to choose only one, I would say Blue Hill in the West Village. It’s a true foodie experience and no matter how many times you go there it’s never the same.